Anonymous has recently announced a campaign to kill Facebook. My first thought was “that’s silly”. Then I logged into my facebook account and had an odd experience.
Now, a while back I noticed a rather frightening feature on Facebook which seemed to resemble an instant messaging application, which to my surprise, I appeared to already have signed into. It seemed as if the thing would automatically display me as “available” anytime I was using facebook – hence, anyone on my facebook page, even members whose access I severely limited – my parents, boss, etc. – could find out exactly when I was using facebook. So I did what any sane person would do when confronted with this situation – I found an option to make myself unavailable by default, and checked it.
Today, however, something odd happened. I was using facebook, minding my own business, when a message came up from someone I very much did NOT want to talk to. Well that’s odd – I thought I opted out of this ridiculously worthless feature. Apparently not, however – facebook had apparently changed something, and for an unknown amount of time everyone on my friends list could see exactly when I was on facebook and when I was not.
Now this isn’t the only reason why I’m upset at facebook – it’s the culmination of many reasons that have slowly destroyed what made facebook cool in t he first place. Let’s not forget, facebook became popular when myspace became an unusable cesspool of the internet that made it too difficult to keep information private. I remember when I decided to shut off my myspace account and move to facebook, a long long time ago: I had read an article about how employers would search for your myspace profile, and would read all the info you posted for what you thought was only your friends. Finding little means of preventing this from happening in myspace’s settings, I joined the growing number of my friends who were switching to facebook. They said facebook is different – it’s specifically for college students (which I was back then), so you add your college friends only. And the best part is, only your college friends can see your profile – no one else. So I joined facebook, and that’s how it was. I also added a lot of old high school friends too, and a good time was had by all.
Oh, how facebook has changed since those good old days. Facebook’s quality slowly started to work against it. It gained a reputation in the mainstream media as being “cool” and part of a “social networking phenomenon”. The next thing I knew, I was getting friend requests from people I did not want to see my immature facebook profile that was intended only for my friends. My uncle was first – I ignored it. Then my landlord – ignored it. Then my parents. Then my boss. Then my boss’s kids – I could hide no longer, and I had to add them all. Pictures were deleted, applications eliminated – no more what kind of ________ am I quizzes. No more sharing my hard rock pandora station. No more pictures of me drinking. No more honest wall comments.
But the worst part has to be facebook’s devolving attitude regarding user privacy. The privacy settings are a seemingly intentionally complicated maze. Applications are allowed to harvest data. Ads on the side of the page seem suspiciously relevant to my life. When I go to various pages on the internet, I see reports of what my “friends” (who are decreasingly actual friends, and increasingly people I added to avoid awkwardness) have done on that site. Can these “friends” see the same things about me? I honestly can’t say. Websites suggest that I should use my facebook id to login. Just how much information are they collecting? What are they doing with it? Is it going to replace other things I use on the internet? Is facebook slowly going to replace alternatives outside the social networking arena? Will it reach the point where I no longer can hide from it?
And that’s where facebook chat comes in. Here’s this “feature” that replaces something that I already had – my Pidgin instant messaging program. Less and less of my friends are using instant messaging (where only those who I give my screen name to can find me, and where they can’t tell what webpage I’m looking at by the fact that I’m signed in) and more are relying on facebook. Email among my friends is largely dead. Where do I go if I want to talk to my actual friends in private, without my parents, boss, and landlord watching? Do I send a private message on facebook? Is that really private? Can I trust them? Am I going to run into some new “feature” that makes my private messages visible to the entire world?
So that’s why facebook needs to die. It has become a monopoly, is becoming more powerful day by day, and is showing an increasing willingness to abuse that power. Anonymous asserts that facebook is spying on you for the government – I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I’m not even worried about the government. I’m worried about facebook colliding my worlds of friends, family, and work with each other. I’m worried about never being sure if what is private and what is not. And most disturbingly – I’m worried that I can’t leave. If I leave, it makes it much harder for my friends to communicate with me.
I want something else, something better. A social network where people can only find my profile if I want them to (or maybe “friends of friends” can also find me), and where it’s clear what information is private and what is not. But facebook’s crushing power in the social networking arena will make it increasingly difficult for an alternative to arise.
For the record, I don’t trust google any more than facebook. Ok, maybe a little more, but not much.